Easy ways to sync files between Macs

If you use multiple Macs, say one for work and one at home, it’s likely you’ll have files and folders that you need to access on both machines. Also, you’ll want those files to be always up to date and synchronized on both machines, so you can be sure you’re always working on the latest version.

There are a number of different ways to transfer files from Mac to Mac or share them, depending on the tools you use to work on the file. The most straightforward is to use some form of cloud syncing. That could be via iCloud — Apple’s own apps use iCloud to sync between Macs and iOS devices logged into the same Apple ID — or, say, Dropbox. By saving files to your online cloud account rather than your local Mac, you’ll always be working on the most recent version of a document. Tools like Microsoft Office 365 and Google Docs work in a similar way — storing documents online so you can access them from anywhere.

How do I sync files between two Mac computers?

There are occasions, however, where you’ll need to store documents and files locally and sync them later. That could be because you work offline sometimes and need to be able to access documents or because you don’t want to store documents in the cloud. 

There are solutions for that too. One of them is ChronoSync Express (above), which allows you to quickly and easily synchronize files between two Macs. There are a number of caveats — the Macs you sync need to be running the same version of Mac OS and the applications on them should all be the same version. In addition, you should only synchronize files in your user Home folder, with the exception of files in the Library folder. There’s an excellent guide to syncing between two Macs using ChronoSync Express here.

If you’d rather take a more manual approach to sharing files, Forklift (below) can help. Designed as a tool for managing FTP servers, Forklift can also synchronize and transfer files between Macs on the same network. All you need to do is connect to the Mac using AFP or SMB, log in and add the folder you want to synchronize to your Favourites in Forklift. You can then use Forklift’s sync tool to ensure the same data is always in both folders.

Dropshare is a cloud hosting service that allows you to upload files and folders from your Mac. You can use its own cloud hosting, which is free with Setapp, or use Dropshare to access third-party storage such as Amazon S3. By dragging a folder onto Dropshare on one Mac and copying it from Dropshare on another Mac, you’ll ensure that all the files within it are in sync. You will, of course, need to remember to drag the most recent version of the folder to Dropshare whenever you move to the other Mac.

How do I get all my Apple devices to sync?

Now you know how to sync two Macs, the next step is to do the same with iOS devices and your Mac. To get a quick access to images, music, and contacts on an iPhone or any other device, befriend iTunes:

  1. Connect your device to a Mac using a USB cable.
  2. Open iTunes and click the device icon in the upper-left corner.
  3. Go to Settings (left side of the window) and choose the type of content you want to sync.
  4. Check the boxes next to to-be-synced items.
  5. In the lower-right corner of the window, click Apply and then Sync in case the syncing process doesn’t start automatically.

Alternatively, you can sync content using Wi-Fi. Once you connect a device, select Summary on the left side of the iTunes window > Sync with this [device] over Wi-Fi > Apply.

A shortcut to syncing your devices is a small-but-mighty app called AnyTrans. This tool allows to backup or synchronize your iOS device to your Mac, archive its data, or run instant backups. You can use it to copy files between an iPhone or iPad and your Mac, and so between two iOS devices whenever you need to. Here’s how to use it.

  1. Install AnyTrans
    Download and install AnyTrans – it’s available on Setapp. Then launch it and connect your iPhone, iPad, or iPod to Mac using a USB cable. You’ll only need to use the cable for the initial setup — after that, as long as your iOS device and Mac are on the same wifi network, AnyTrans will see it. When it’s connected, if you see a box asking you if you Trust this Computer, tap Trust. Then type in your passcode on the iPhone or iPad.

  2. Connect multiple iOS devices
    If you have an iPad as well as an iPhone, you can repeat the process in Step 1 to connect that too. That way, you’ll be able to transfer files between the two iOS devices, as long as they’re on the same wifi network.

  3. Backup your iOS device
    With your iOS device connected, access Air Backup Manager. You’ll see a screen where you can set up instant backups. If you want to change anything — for example, set it to automatically backup your iOS device at specific time intervals, that’s the place where you can modify settings. That will ensure that whenever your iPhone or iPad is on the same network as your Mac and AnyTrans is running, it will sync with the iOS device.

  4. Copy files to your Mac
    To transfer files individually to your Mac, connect your iOS device via AnyTrans and click on Content to Computer in Device Manager. This will give you an instant access to all file folders stored on your mobile device. Check the boxes next to files you want to transfer or copy all – they will travel to your Mac in the blink of an eye.

Other ways to sync data between devices

External drives, including USB and flash drive memory sticks, are also a good time-tested way to share files and data between any of your devices.

In addition, depending on the size of the file, you could send an email with an attachment, or a zip folder. If your files are too large for email, you may be tempted to use a storage service.

Apple’s own iCloud offers a limited free storage and sharing plan, where you can keep up to 5GB of files. With all your photos and iPhone backups, this tends to fill up pretty quickly, urging you to upgrade to one of their paid tiers, either the 50GB plan for $0.99 per month, or up to 1TB for $9.99.

Other ways to share are AirDrop, which also works between Mac and iOS devices, or, as this MacWorld article states, File Sharing, when your devices are on the same Local Area (LAN) or WiFi network. The setup there is rather cumbersome and using one of the Setapp apps above could prove to be easier and more effective.

So there you go — lots of options for syncing files between two Macs, two iOS devices and even between a Mac and an iOS device. Choose the one that best meets your needs and give it a go.

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